A Proposed New Year’s Resolution for Introverts Everywhere

A proposed 2020 New Year’s resolution for introverts everywhere:

I resolve this year to just be me — to go ahead and be the introvert I am.

I resolve to see my introversion not as something to correct, but as something to respect; not as something to face, but as something to embrace.

I resolve to focus on my many strengths — working independently, listening to people and actually hearing them, thinking carefully, researching thoroughly, focusing intently without needing to be supervised or entertained, and so many more — instead of my weaknesses.

Yes, just like everyone else, I have my things to work on.

But my introversion isn’t one of them.

No one’s is.


“Who Am I?” Is a Question You Shouldn’t Tackle Alone

When you ask “Who am I?” — as we all inevitably do at some point(s) in our lives — make sure you’re putting your question to the right person.

Or should I say persons.

You yourself probably aren’t the best guy/gal to ask. You certainly shouldn’t be the only one, that’s for sure.

I developed a working theory during my days as a career counselor that has proven to be profoundly true in my own life and in the lives of virtually everyone I care about. It goes like this:

You can’t fully see who you really are.

I mean this little truism as a motivational tool, not as an insult. And I mean it quite literally as well as figuratively. For it has to do with blindness.

As I write this, I am 52 years old. I’ve been intrigued with words my entire existence. Like many introverts, I essentially lived at the public library growing up, reading constantly then and ever since. Written expression fascinates me. Always has, always will.

When I write — especially about issues that really matter to me personally, audience or no audience — I routinely experience that sublime sensation referred to as flow, or The Zone in sports terms. I lose track of time and space. I’m completely absorbed. My efforts are effortless. I become Writer — and nothing else.

You might think, given this confident description with its flowery, upbeat language, that I know myself very well. But the truth is that I am only just now beginning to know myself.

Why? Because “you can’t fully see who you really are.” And so for more than five decades now, I haven’t fully seen who I really am. I’ve been blind, at least partially.

“What do you do?” I’ve been asked repeatedly throughout my adult life. I’ve always equated the question with “Who are you?” My answers have varied through the years, beginning with:

  • “I’m a sports reporter.”
  • “I work at a newsletter publishing company.”
  • “I’m training to become a career counselor.”
  • “I am a career counselor.”

In more recent years, my responses to the question have ventured closer to the real truth:

  • “I write for career web site Monster.com.”
  • “I’m a freelance journalist.”
  • “I publish a newsletter.”
  • “I’m an author; I write nonfiction books.”

But it is only now, after (finally) questioning and listening to not myself but the people in my life who really know me, that I see — and acknowledge and fully accept — what’s been in front of me all along:

I’m a writer.

We are all blind to our own gifts because those gifts come so easily and naturally to us that, well, they can’t possibly be “real” gifts!

We are all blind as well to our own essences — our own respective cores, our own purposes for being on the planet — just as we’re all blind to seeing the backs of our own heads.

It’s possible to see what we want and need to see, but we need mirrors. We need people in our lives who care about us enough to reflect back what should be obvious to us, but too often isn’t.

It is then up to each of us to not only listen to what these trusted souls are telling us, but to hear it.

And then take it to heart.

And then act on it.

Who am I? Many things — but I’m a writer in my soul of souls. I only know that because I’ve begun to ask the question differently — namely, of different people instead of only myself.

Who are you?

Who can you ask?

And will you listen to the answers — then act on them?

There’s No Such Thing as an Introvert

I typically call myself “an introvert”; maybe you do too.

We need to watch it, though — for our language and the thinking behind it, both conscious and unconscious, can lead to trouble.

Remember: The personality traits of introversion and extraversion aren’t black and white. Rather, they lie on a continuum:

Introversion               |                   Extraversion

None of us is purely introverted or purely extraverted. Carl Jung once said that “such a [person] would be in the lunatic asylum.” Rather, we’re each a mixture of both traits and a thousand others. And even that mixture fluctuates to some degree depending on our circumstances.

If, for example, you’re very passionate about something, you’ll tend to become more extraverted in your behaviors, if only temporarily. Conversely, if you’re exhausted after a particularly trying day, you’ll likely become even more introverted than you already are.

Either way, you’re never 100 percent introverted. And therefore you are not — and cannot be — “an introvert.”

No one can.

Furthermore, the developers of the popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) instrument — the most widely used personality assessment in the world — note that an “introvert” is more accurately described as “a person who prefers introversion” or “a person who tends toward introversion most of the time.” (Similarly, an “extravert” is more accurately described as “a person who prefers extraversion” or “a person who tends toward extraversion most of the time.”)

We’re all only human, pressed for time and energy, and so we tend to use the terms “introvert” and “extravert” as a form of shorthand in our everyday lives. It makes sense.

But it can be problematic if we’re not constantly vigilant about what we’re actually doing; shorthand invites potential typecasting (“all introverts are the same”), and typecasting inevitably leads to overstatements, misstatements, and misunderstandings where introverts and introversion are concerned. The same can be said, of course, for extraverts and extraversion.

If you’re someone who thrives on solitude, needs to think before you speak and/or act, craves depth and substance in your relationships and activities, and longs to focus intently on one thing or one person at a time rather than constantly multitasking, you’re probably someone who prefers introversion or tends toward introversion most of the time. You’ll be referred to as “an introvert” only — only — because it takes way too long to refer to you as “a person who tends toward introversion most of the time.”

But you are indeed most accurately described as “a person who tends toward introversion most of the time.”

You are not “an introvert.” I am not “an introvert.” No one is “an introvert.” Not really. We are all different, thanks to our individual experiences and our genetics and dozens of other variables that make each of us unique.

“An introvert”? There’s no such thing.

Socializing Comes in Many Forms

Most every year, my lovely wife, Adrianne, asks me to accompany her to the downtown beer tent that is one of the main attractions of “Boxcar Days,” her hometown of Tracy, Minnesota’s annual Labor Day Weekend celebration of railroads and trains.

The beer tent is where everyone over the age of 21 gathers to visit with old friends, perhaps have a beer or two, listen to karaoke, maybe even dance a little. It’s easily the biggest draw of the celebration.

And the loudest.

Adrianne, like me, is an introvert, though she generally seems more outgoing than I am. So while I’m never exactly shocked that she wants to go to the beer tent — and I’m ultimately happy to go both with her and for her, especially so she can see her high school friends and vice versa — the inconvenient truth is that my very first, gut-level reaction to her suggestion that we attend is always: “Ugh.”

I have my theories as to why.

For starters, I think I have a touch of social anxiety disorder in certain situations. I’m also not much into beer drinking, though I’ll have my one from time to time.

The real story, though, is something that marketing writer Kate Finley touched on a few years back in her superb Fast Company article entitled “How Introverts Can Network Without Losing Their Minds.” There, in describing the key distinction between introversion and shyness, she wrote:

“… [A] lack of interest in socializing (introversion) is clearly different than fearing it (shyness).”

As I wrote in a comment to Finley’s piece, I don’t have a “lack of interest in socializing,” necessarily. Rather, I tend to have a lack of interest in the typical ways OF socializing. As I noted in my response:

A one-on-one, quiet conversation with someone about a topic that really matters? Count me in — let’s socialize! Glad-handing and back-patting through herds of shouting people at conferences and parties? Not so much.

Interestingly — and this happens to me quite often in similar situations — I always end up having a nice time with Adrianne at the beer tent. (It’s especially gratifying to see her seemingly mild-mannered high school friend get up on the karaoke stage year after year and belt out tunes like Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell.”) There’s always something to be said for pushing beyond (or being nudged beyond) one’s comfort zone.

But there’s also something to be said for diversity when it comes to socializing approaches. And socializing one on one — in a peaceful coffee shop, perhaps — is what I’ll always pick if given the choice.

It’s still socializing.

There Is No “Introvert Code” to Uphold

I’ve been talking to myself all day today — literally.

As in talking out loud to myself (in environments where I’m by myself, at any rate). Sometimes I’ve even been raising my voice to ensure that I’m heard over the irritating, nonstop blurts of the ever-present inner critic inside of me.

What have I been saying to myself? Words and phrases that would probably be referred to as affirmations. Primarily two sentences:

  1. I’m a writer. I’m a writer. I’m a writer. I’m a writer. I’m a writer.
  2. What I write matters. What I write matters. What I write matters. What I write matters. What I write matters.

I spent much of yesterday doing the same thing as today, covering not only my identity as a writer but also my role as a parent:

  • I’m a good parent. I’m a good parent. I’m a good parent. I’m a good parent. I’m a good parent.

I’ve been aware of the concept of affirmations for years. But I’ve never actually tried them, out loud like you’re supposed to, until about 30 hours ago — at the backhanded suggestion of my lovely wife, Adrianne, who in truth suggested that I write them down on sticky notes and put them all over the house. I figured I might as well just go ahead and say them aloud instead, since research has shown that verbal affirmations actually work — that they make you feel better about yourself and thus live and perform with more confidence.

I can tell you the results of my experiment so far: Affirmations do indeed seem to work. I do feel better, and I do feel more confident now than I did even this morning.

Moreover, I’ve been inspired to write this very blog post. And another one began cooking too as I ran on the treadmill at the YMCA, trying my best to whisper my verbal affirmations loudly enough to be effective, yet softly enough so the people around me wouldn’t think I’m a wingnut.

I always thought I shied away from affirmations because they’d make me feel silly. To some degree that’s true. But in the locker room just now, standing next to a naked guy who was on his cell phone talking very seriously to someone about “operational costs” (speaking of silly … or wingnuts), it occurred to me that the real reason I have shied away from affirmations has more to do with my introversion than anything else — more specifically, my sometimes misguided beliefs about how I as an introvert should think and behave.

We introverts are so inner-focused by nature that we sometimes figure we have to solve every problem on our own, and in silence. I am guilty of this behavior frequently, albeit subconsciously. My dear Adrianne has told me that, at times, it looks to her as though I’m trying to uphold some kind of warped “introvert code” which says that I always have to go it alone, that I cannot reach out for help or even talk about what’s bothering me. That I’m supposed to keep it all inside because, well, that’s what introverts do. Or, more accurately, that’s what introverts are supposed to do. It’s the introvert brand.


I have to stop. And if you’re an introvert who does the same kind of thing from time to time, you need to stop too.

I will always be, and appreciate, who I am. Being an introvert is part of that. But being an introvert doesn’t mean always keeping my thoughts and emotions inside, or always feeling like I have to. I’m human. You’re human. We all need help. And we all need to sometimes hear an audible voice of encouragement and understanding, whether its our own or someone else’s.

There is no “introvert code.” And therefore there is no “introvert code” to uphold.

Yes, the inner voice I have as an introvert can and often does work to my great benefit, helping me come up with ideas and solutions seemingly out of nowhere. No wonder I gravitate toward it and embrace it.

But when it is instead working against me, in whatever way, well, then it’s time for me to talk. Out loud.

To someone else.